SAN PEDRO, AMBERGRIS CAYE, Wed. Sept. 23, 2015–On Sunday, September 20, at 9:30 a.m. prompt, 26 sailing vessels manned and crewed by Belizeans were at the line when the horn sounded the start of 2015 Bart’s Bash Belize in the waters off Caribbean Villas Hotel in San Pedro. The skies were murky grey, and the skippers tried to find and catch the mere puffs of wind that rose and died from varying directions here and there along the course. The fleet was so becalmed that it took a few frustrated skippers more than 10 minutes just to cross the start line. The windlessness lasted well into the race, but at long last one of the squalls approaching from the northeast arrived, and with it winds up to 25 knots. The course circuit that had taken one Hobie Wave over an hour to complete on its first lap took 14 minutes to complete the 2nd and last time around.
Jorge Sanchez skippering the Hobie 18, Shalom, came screaming across the finish ahead of all others, a minute 45 seconds ahead of Jorge Olivarez’ Laser Radial and 2 minutes ahead of Antonio Ricardez’ Laser Radial. However, after the handicaps are applied to these and the other boats, seven of the children sailing Optimists swept the top 7 places. Kevin Velasquez of San Pedro was the first of them and won First Place overall. Second was Nashira Ricardez of Belize City. Both of them had competed in the North American Championships at Antigua, W.I. Mitchell Sersland captured Third place. Fourth through Seventh went to Caroline Sersland, Gracie Brown, Nicholas Lausen and Alexandra Lausen, respectively. The next seven places were won by all the Laser Radial sailors in the race, with Laser skippers Jorge Olivarez, Antonio Ricardez and Sarah White taking Eighth, Ninth and Tenth, respectively.
Background and Significance
This year, Belize had a sailing reputation to defend. Did it succeed? How long will it take before we know?
First launched in 2014, Bart’s Bash Regatta is a legitimate international sailing race in which sailors all over the world and in every kind of sailboat imaginable take to their home waters on the same day and sail courses that have been designated as comparable by a computer program in the hands of the Bart’s Bash Committee, who also have a computer program to handicap the various classes of boats sailing against each other. The Guinness Book of World Records recorded last year’s inaugural Bart’s Bash as the largest sailboat race in history.
It was created to commemorate a beloved champion sailor and philanthropist, Andrew “Bart” Simpson and to support The Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation. Bart lost his life at age 37, practicing aboard Sweden’s 72-foot America’s Cup catamaran that cartwheeled in preliminaries on San Francisco Bay on May 8, 2013.
Why the pressure on Belize this year? All of Belize’s 2014 skippers finished in the top 15% of the 2014 record-setting 16,780 entrants. The Belizean children aged 8 to 15 sailing Optimist Dinghies last year all finished in the top 8% of the 1,174 competing in their class.
The upshot of these performances last year is this: They stunned the sailing world and encouraged Belizeans such as those who are members of the Belize Sailing Association to send young Belizean skippers into the international sailing arena. That occurred this past summer when Belize’s 4 top Optimist skippers – 2 boys and 2 girls – entered the North American Optimist Championship Regatta on the island of Antigua, W.I., and competed against 158 other sailors from 22 other countries. The following week, 2 sailors – a boy and a girl – from Belize’s small fledgling cadre of Laser XD Radial skippers attended the International Sailing Federation’s (ISAF) week-long clinic on Antigua, for which both were rewarded with virtually total ISAF scholarships to compete in the 2015 Youth World Championship Laser Regatta in Malaysia at the end of December, 2015, and into the new year.
To have competed even in only one such Youth World Championship regatta on an Olympic class boat such as the Laser XD Radial thereafter opens wide the doors to a career in professional sailing for those who pass through that portal, as our two young Belizeans will. It also leaves those doors tantalizingly ajar for the youth of Belize who wish to follow in their wake. It appears that without doubt, the Belizeans who embraced the first Bart’s Bash last year and sailed in it probably did more to promote recreational sailing in Belize than anything else aimed at that goal.